A question of image

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docmattc
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A question of image

Post by docmattc »

On another thread, referring to criticism of the society on a blog elsewhere
contrabordun wrote:The rest seem to have some very ill-informed ideas about what the SSG is and does, and maybe the Society's PR and communications is an issue? (To be attacked for what you do, for what you stand for, and for what you are responsible is one thing: to be attacked for what you don't and aren't is quite another!).


I've started a new thread because Dunstan and our 16' friend have summed up the previous one excellently and I think its helpful to move on.

The way in which SSG is apparently perceived in a particular constituency of the Church as being partly responsible for wrecking it musically has been very illuminating. The author of the blog himself, after a deal of generalisation, eventually concedes that our discussion forum is actually more open-minded than 'one might imagine'. Many of the contributors' criticisms were based on selective pickings from the website, often taken out of context to justify the argument. SSG has a very broad umbrella and no amount of PR could prevent this selectivity from giving a false impression. This is not to say that PR couldn't be better, because in all things there is room for improvement. (You should hear my organ playing :D )



My first encounter with SSG puts a different angle on the image issue:
I had vaguely known about the existence of SSG for years before joining, but I had the perception that SSG was a very traditionalist group who were solely interested in the restoration of plainsong. I don't know how I came to that conclusion, because I'm fairly sure I didn't have any evidence for it. I certainly hadn't bothered to investigate.

I saw an advertisment in the national Catholic press for the 2005 summer school, which included workshops for those leading the music in their parishes. As I was about to take on this responsibility it piqued my interest, but would not have done so had the summer school not been fairly local in Whitby- A week at the seaside after no holiday for 5 years!
A look on the website began to challenge my prejudices but I was still suspicious that SSG was far too conservative and narrow minded for my liking. However I mentioned it to a family friend, a priest from Westminster, who happened to be visiting. He told me he was a member and SSG was 'OK'.

Indeed it was OK, those present at the Summer school actually came from a very broad spectrum of the church. And were all tolerant of others' view point. But on my return from that summer school I mentioned it to a colleague who looks after the music in another church. He shuddered in horror and asked why I was involved with 'those right wing loonies'.

The image question is a complex one as neither view of the society is correct. SSG does not advocate plainsong exclusively, nor does it only consider music written since 1965 to be of value. I would venture that what SSG does well is avoid the trap that any particular form of liturgy, or style of music, is de facto superior to another.

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Nick Baty
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Post by Nick Baty »

Some quotes about the SSG from aforemention blog:

"It is amazing that on SSG no one realises the pain they cause."

"…parishes where SSG activists control the liturgy…"

"…the hairy Lefty SSG types drive young people away with what Thomas Day calls "reformed Folk"…"

And there were several posts which linked SSG with certain ditties like "Give me joy in my heart".

All very interesting.

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contrabordun
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Post by contrabordun »

Yes it was rather obvious that the society in general (and Nick in particular) were getting flack, not for who or what they actually are or do but for what people assume they are are and do.

That screams "communication issue" to me. Any exec. members want to comment?

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Post by John Ainslie »

The question of the image of the Society of Saint Gregory has been frequently and recently discussed yet again by the trustees. It is extraordinary that, over 40 years since the Society nailed its Vatican 2 colours to its mast, it is still considered to be exclusively devoted to plainsong preservation. docmattc describes above how he joined the Society and saw how we were not as the caricature would have had him believe.

The problem is partly inherent in the name: 'Society' can give the impression of exclusivity, while even the mention of our patron's name conjures up Gregorian chant, as if this was his greatest contribution to the Church. In fact Pope Saint Gregory the Great - one of only two popes to have been granted the title 'Great' - had a tremendous breadth of talent and a deep concern not only for the Church's worship but for all aspects of the Church's life. The Society's concern, similarly, is to promote actual (actuosa) participation in well-celebrated liturgy, while taking to heart Pope Benedict XVI's advice that 'there can be no actuosa participatio in the sacred mysteries without an accompanying effort to participate actively in the life of the Church as a whole, including a missionary commitment to bring Christ's love into the life of society' ('Sacramentum Caritatis', no 55). The Society's sponsorship of the livesimply campaign is a sign of this.

And as those who have studied Pope Gregory's ascribed patronage of 'Gregorian' chant will have discovered, the main corpus of the music that claims his name was composed some 150-250 years after he died: see the article in the Society's journal, Music and Liturgy, vol 32 no 3 (autumn 2006), pages 9-10.

In fact it is Music and Liturgy, together with our annual Summer School, that proclaims what we are about and the breadth of our vision. Membership of the Society is open to all who are interested in what we really are and do and promote. If you, dear reader, are not already a member, why not join us and see?

John Ainslie
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MaryR
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Post by MaryR »

Thanks, contrabordun. I'd like to comment, but please bear in mind that I've not consulted with the executive committee before making this contribution.

I agree with all that has been written about our image problem. I have to say though that I have more often encountered the 'You're all about plain chant' belief than people who think we're trying to inflict 70s dross, together with our own dross, on unwitting parishes.

At Summer School this year, I spoke to at least three first timers who said they were only there because of the focus on RCIA and that they thought the music would be all plain chant which they were less than enthusiastic about. They were pleasantly surprised, though plain chant wasn't left out.

That's why the decision to hold the Chant & Pray event at Westminster was carefully considered: That is just the sort of event that certain people will think is typically SSG and we have been striving to shake off that image. However, we're not against plain chant, and I know many members use it in their parishes alongside trad. four square hymns and more contemporary songs.

I think the name of the Society does us no favours as far as links with plain chant are concerned, but I doubt that anyone would want to change that. One of the things the executive committee has been looking at, though, is the possibility of changing our logo. 'Old Greg' as he is affectionately known, probably doesn't help our cause much.

As for our other image - that SSG members inflict bad music on congregations - well I'm not sure where this impression has come from, and how we can begin to shake it off. Perhaps people have been less than impressed with the music SSG has published. Baptised With Fire has certainly been criticised recently. I think it's a useful collection, but I certainly wouldn't use everything in there. With any collection, choirs tend to find one or two useful pieces to add to their repertoire. Baptised With Fire has never been held up to be an example of how people should be doing it, and certain pieces, or even all the pieces, may not be to a person's taste, but that doesn't make it bad music. And the Society has never promoted the music of its composers' group over other music. In fact, the journal regularly contains reviews of collections by composers from around the world, and of many different genres.

I don't think either our journal or our website give any false impressions about who we are and what we do. I don't think Summer School does either. And I certainly don't think many people would lump the music from composers' group with 'Bind Us Together' and such like. I'm not sure what else we can do to change our image. I wonder whether the events of recent weeks haven't done more to make people realise what we are actually about than anything we could do ourselves. :-)

I should be very happy to take ideas and suggestions back to the executive committee as to how we might project a clearer image of who we are and what we're about. Please feel free to PM me, or email me at secretary@ssg.org.uk.

Mary Rouse
Secretary to Society of Saint Gregory
Last edited by MaryR on Sun Oct 07, 2007 2:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by MaryR »

As I said, not in consultation, but clearly like minded! Phew! That's a relief. :-)

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Post by musicus »

Perhaps someone who was there could tell us about Chant and Pray, and, in particular, what it might have done, or not done, for people's perception of the SSG.
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Dot
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Post by Dot »

Chant and Pray was good for me and good for the SSG. Westminster Cathedral is overtly upholding the tradition of chant as the sung prayer of the Church. SSG members, and many others, went to the Cathedral on Saturday to learn how this chant the prayer of the Church. I do not believe that SSG came over as having a preference for one style of music over another. They are not the Plainchant Society nor are they the Folk Group Society. The address given by the Society's Chairman, who emphasised the participation of the people over the use of a particular musical genre, made this clear. He also referred to the words next to the logo of St Gregory: "non clamor sed amor cantat in aure Dei: not noise, but love, sings in the ear of God." I hadn't appreciated this motto before, but what a good one it is.

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musicus
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Post by musicus »

Thanks very much, Dot. I'm sorry I had to miss it.

The SSG's motto – non clamor sed amor cantat in aure Dei (not noise, but love, sings in the ear of God) – is also to be found at the top of every page in these forums. How appropriate! :)
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Post by mcb »

It was an excellent day, I thought - the calm, good-humoured assurance which Thomas Wilson and Matthew Martin brought to the afternoon's musical activities meant that excellent progress was made in remarkably quick time. The closing celebration of vespers, with Thomas directing and Martin Baker on the organ, was a fine example of how chant can be a truly effective means to participatory liturgy.

I thoroughly appreciated John Ainslie's address at the beginning too. John quoted at length from Dom Bernard McElligott, outlining the Society's commitment to fostering participation in the liturgy, and showing that the idea long predates Vatican II. It reassured me of something I knew, namely that the SSG adheres to a genuine vision, shared by successive popes, which has nothing to do with futile debates between the fringes and the mainstream over musical aesthetics.

M.

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sidvicius
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Re: A question of image

Post by sidvicius »

I'm curious that SSG can be described as both 'right wing loonies' and 'hairy lefties' depending on who you speak to. This seems to suggest it is merely a whipping boy for anyone with an axe to grind about the state of music in their church, or more generally the state of music in church today.

Perhaps one of the churches' difficulties at the moment is trying to find new ways of staying in touch, rather like the shop keeper who sets his stall with both old and new to cover all his potential customers. Whether they all shop there at the same time is the balancing act. I've found SSG to be much more about promoting the new whilst maintaining a sense of the tradition, though getting this right is difficult. I'm often guilty of berating a song or a liturgy because to me it 'has limited value' - but perhaps I haven't heard it done well, or I haven't done it well - prayed it well even. It's nothing to do with what it is, it's how I hear/interpret/understand it.

I guess that SSG is striving for good delivery of Music and Liturgy - not necessarily how it is 'packaged' but how it is 'sent out to the world' and how it is received. But the guidance comes from afar and is necessarily translated and interpreted, and just how objective can we get about something like this? I suspect that OfsMaL would find most places struggling to reach any common standard - we just do the best we can with the local resources - and SSG has become one of the very few national support groups who voluntarily try to faciliate this.

If SSG's 'image' has become somehow tarnished that's a shame - but it also needs to be addressed, as I think the criticisms are unjustified (see para 1). How to go about this? Maybe a start would be right here on the web? Looking at the home page I see no real 'mission statement' that clearly sets out 1) what SSG is about - it's purpose, and 2) how it goes about achieving that. My introduction to SSG was very much 'suck-it-and-see', and while I see what positive things it can do, I can understand why it wouldn't appeal to everyone.

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Re: A question of image

Post by JW »

Tongue half in cheek: would the name "Greg's community" create a better kind of image?
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sidvicius
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Re: A question of image

Post by sidvicius »

St Gregory does present an issue - the association with chant/plainsong - a somewhat ancient tradition, like it or not. Oddly enough I remember looking him up on the web to find out more about his musical past, and ended up reading an article very descriptive of his very mystical direct line to God (hence the Dove, which acted as a conduit as I understand it), but barely mentioning anything of his musical credits. Reading John Ainslie's comments above, explains why this may be! Also, did St Gregory have much to do with liturgy?

St Cecilia is patron of music generally, but again not of liturgy. Maybe we need to identify such holies as patrons, but identify a less 'loaded' name, e.g. the Music and Liturgy Society, or something?

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VML
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Re: A question of image

Post by VML »

We could always call it Consignia!.. Sorry, I just don't think we need to dumb down the name of the SSG for the sake of image.

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Re: A question of image

Post by contrabordun »

I don't think (for example) calling it the Music and Liturgy Society would constitute dumbing down. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that - to judge from some of the posts to Damian Thingy's Telegraph blog, the Society's external image apparently does not reflect what the Society actually does. 4 questions follow:

1. Does this matter?
2. If so, do we care?
3. If so, do we know what sins of omission or commission have brought this situation about?
4. If so, what can we do about them?

If 'the name of the society' is one of the answers to (3), then 'change it' is a fair candidate for (4).
Paul Hodgetts

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